Why I Think America Is Still The Country Of Dreams
March 9, 2008 by Akemi Gaines
As an immigrant, I can see what Americans take for granted.
I have lived in the US since 1995. I am fully aware of its problems. Yet, I think America is still one of the best places to succeed for someone who is ambitious and hard-working. The sad fact is that many Americans don’t realize it – they have lost the immigrant spirit, which was the spiritual foundation of the country, and just whine while sitting on their status-quo.
Let me tell you two major issues that I believe have been bending the mind of many Japanese for decades and thus have limited the economic growth there. See how you think America fares in these areas.
1. Discriminations that confine the growth of talents
Discrimination leads to systematic loss of good ideas and great talents. It judges the idea by the person who presents the idea rather than by the idea itself, and it judges the person by their attributes rather than by their expertise. I think it is quite amazing Japan has done well in the past despite deep-rooted discriminations such as . . .
You must have a penis to be promoted in Japanese companies. I have been involved in the Japanese business community in the US for over a decade, and have dealt with several hundred Japanese businessmen (expats) either as service provider (I used to work for international banking department of a major bank) or as colleague, and never met a Japanese business woman sent directly from Japan. I recently read a news article that Nissan started promoting women – and that made a front page coverage in the business section of a US newspaper . . .
I heard there is an equivalent of affirmative action in Japan, but with no penalty. No penalty means it is just a decoration. Sexism at work is a common practice in Japan, and many Japanese women tolerate very low wage jobs because they can’t find other options.
Age discrimination is not only present but in the written rules of many Japanese companies. There, people must retire at certain age. Many companies also limit the maximum age of new hires, viewing older applicants as “un-educatable.” People are put in age hierarchy, which limits free and expansive thinking and communication. In this rigid society, people age quickly – at age 25, I was repeatedly told I was too old to get a job or to get married. (I heard they recently raised the cut-off line to age 29. . . How nice.)
Many Japanese insist there are no racism in Japan because it is a homogeneous society. Nothing is farther than the truth. First, Japan is not “homogeneous.” There are Ainus in Hokkaido, and people in Okinawa consider themselves as different from the mainland Japanese – for good cultural reasons. There are also tens of thousands of Chinese and Koreans living in Japan. By ignoring them, many Japanese render themselves to the worst form of discrimination.
Further, many Japanese (secretly) subscribe to old racism. I have worked for three Japanese-invested companies in the US, and never saw a black American in senior management. Beside the Japanese expats, all senior management were white men, with one white woman among them. (One female representative is considered necessary to avoid the accusation of sexism.)
2. Social myths (tatemae) that only gives disillusion and distrust to those who know the reality (hon-ne)
You’ve heard lots of good things about Japan. Well, many are not true. But if you ask a Japanese about it, he or she would probably say it is true – because they know they are supposed to endorse it. They do know the reality is far from what is advertised, but have no way to express their concerns outside their inner circle. This split mentality causes confusion. Over time, people lose enthusiasm even for really good cause – they’ve been disappointed with the discrepancies of promoted good cause and the reality just too often. It’s an anti-thesis of Pavlof’s dog. When disappointed too often, they may shun away even at the sight of a real treat.
Some well promoted myths are . . .
Good school system
Japanese score well in many tests. But the real contributor to the high scores is the cram school, not the regular school. Japanese kids (I mean elementary school kids) work until 9 pm at cram schools. They have no energy left by the time they enter adulthood, no interest in real learning, and no creativity.
Low divorce rate
It is low for a reason. Did I say getting a reasonable job is hard for women in Japan? Especially for older women (read: women over the age of 30)? For them, divorce means freedom in poverty. Add to that the social shame still associated with divorce. The image of marriage in Japan is one-way ticket to mystery house – no exit whatever you find there.
Japanese do live long. Many older folks are bed-ridden for years, but yes, they are kept alive.
I am concerned about western researches that report things like “Japanese (or Asian) women don’t suffer from menopause.” Do they realize that those women are under social pressure NOT to discuss physical discomfort? When I was working for a Japanese-invested company, I once made a mistake and complained about my shoulder pain. The Japanese sales VP snared at me and said, “That’s menopause . . . oops, I’m not supposed to say this in America, huh?” It’s been years now and I still have my period very regularly, so obviously it was not menopause. The point is that women are conditioned not to discuss physical issues – if they do, they go under the storm of social ridicule. (My example is really nothing compared to what goes on back in Japan.)
Oh, I love America!
I am still a woman, no younger than I was when I was in Japan, with yellow golden skin and a bit of accent, and none of these stopped me from getting great jobs, and I can even start my own business! I can say what I believe to be true, and because I have kept my honesty and integrity, I feel passionate about the causes I believe in! Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Read on to my story of coming to America . . . and how it is so like becoming an entrepreneur . . . here.